Mer­cury:

The Arizona Republic - - SPORTS - JEFF MET­CALFE

Phoenix will try to avoid play­off elim­i­na­tion at home vs. the Sparks.

Sandy Bron­dello be­lieves there is a path to beat­ing the WNBA de­fend­ing cham­pion Los An­ge­les Sparks.

Whether her Phoenix Mer­cury can make it down that road Sun­day to re­main alive in the league semi­fi­nals and avert a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive 3-0 exit from the fi­nal four will re­quire cor­rec­tions on both ends of the floor. (Min­nesota swept Phoenix out of the 2016 semi­fi­nals.)

The Sparks won Games 1 and 2 by an al­most iden­ti­cal mar­gin – 79-66 on Tues­day and 86-72 on Thurs­day – to take a com­mand­ing lead in the best-of-5 se­ries. LA is 5-0 against Phoenix this sea­son with only one mar­gin un­der dou­ble-dig­its (89-87 way back on June 10).

There are teams that the Mer­cury can beat with­out of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion from its power for­ward po­si­tion. LA is not one of those be­cause of its de­fen­sive abil­ity to at least limit one of the Mer­cury Al­lS­tars, cen­ter Brit­tney Griner or guard Diana Taurasi.

Mer­cury start­ing power for­ward Camille Lit­tle has a com­bined six points in the se­ries on 3-of-7 shoot­ing. The Sparks are leav­ing her open at times to dou­ble team 6-9 Griner, the WNBA reg­u­lar-sea­son scor­ing cham­pion who is av­er­ag­ing 20.8 points in the play­offs.

“We need Camille to take those open shots,” Bron­dello said Satur­day. “If not, it makes it hard on the rest of us be­cause it’s ba­si­cally 5-on-4. We know Camille can do that. It doesn’t mean she takes bad shots, it just means she gets in po­si­tion where she can make shots. It’s all about the prepa­ra­tion. But then hope­fully we can find some more open­ings for other peo­ple. In the end, you’ve got to be ag­gres­sive.”

The 6-2 Lit­tle av­er­aged 7.1 points in the reg­u­lar sea­son but did have eight dou­ble-fig­ure games (two against LA). If the Sparks must play her more hon­est with 6-4 Can­dace Parker or 6-2 Nneka Og­wu­mike, then Griner has more free­dom to post up and shoot.

Bron­dello has an­other op­tion at power for­ward given the re­turn of 6-6 An­gel Robin­son from a knee in­jury suf­fered Aug. 12 that kept her out for 20 games.

Robin­son played al­most 10 min­utes Thurs­day, help­ing the Mer­cury to cut a 15-point deficit to four early in the fourth quar­ter.

Af­ter Robin­son signed on June 28, Bron­dello had plans to play her and Griner to­gether at times that were de­railed when both suf­fered in­juries. They have only been healthy to­gether for five games.

“It might be a good ad­van­tage for us es­pe­cially me play­ing as an ath­letic 4 and BG play­ing at the 5,” Robin­son said. “If she loves to play the 4 some­times, I don’t mind play­ing the 5. So it can be an in­ter­change­able po­si­tion. It’s huge as far as re­bound­ing, and both of us are mo­bile for our size. I thought we did a good job cut­ting down their of­fen­sive re­bounds. Can­dace didn’t score as much and we cut the lead a lit­tle bit.”

The Mer­cury are av­er­ag­ing 17 turnovers in the se­ries, help­ing to fuel the Sparks’ tran­si­tion game. They have to play stronger with the ball and ex­pect WNBA De­fen­sive Player of the Year Alana Beard and oth­ers to be prod­ding for steals on ev­ery pos­ses­sion.

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